Skip navigation

From Life at Sea to MBE

Mr. William Kemuel Jackson.

Sitting in the shade of a tree in his Uncle Bob Road, West Bay yard, he comments on the fresh Christmas breeze coming off the North Sound. He also talks about his years at sea, his fruit trees and his crusade against pollution. But more than anything else, Mr. William Kemuel Jackson's contribution to his community is defined by his love of cat boats.

"They are special boats you know. And while people have come and tried, so far as design goes, there is no improving it. The old-timers had it down to a tee," Mr. Jackson comments.

Asked how such a small wooden craft became a cultural icon, he explains that 'back then,' the cat boat was the pick-up truck of today - and more!

"In the old days, going somewhere by cat boat was a big deal, like going to Miami now. If you were going shopping, you could walk - or you could take the cat boat. If you wanted to visit North Side, you took the cat boat. If you went to the doctor, you took the cat boat. The first building on Rum Point was built with materials ferried from George Town by cat boat."

Before becoming a master cat boat builder and a primary keeper of Cayman's cat boat tradition, Mr. Jackson lived a colourful and adventurous life, all based in and around the sea.

As a boy he kept himself busy by catching lobster, conch and fish, borrowing boats from neighbours as he went along. When he was 21, he went to sea, starting as a kitchen hand on a bulk carrier. He quickly worked himself up to chief pump engineer, a skill that took him as far as Japan, Brazil and South Africa.

Back on home soil he maintained his close relationship with the sea, becoming one of the Cayman Islands' first dive masters after striking up a friendship with diving pioneer Bob Soto. Together they laid the foundation for Cayman's diving industry, for which they both earned induction into the 2008 International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame.

Now in his early seventies, Mr. Jackson reflects on a lifetime of adventures - including one that found him sailing with the King of Sweden - but he believes that growing old is a blessing for these slower-paced years allow him to focus on things he really enjoys.

And so today, in defiance of his age, he spends his time teaching others the intricacies of cat boating, while also serving as vice president of the Cat Boat Association and vice chairman of the Cayman Maritime Heritage Foundation.

"It is important that our young people take an interest in our heritage," he says. And so every summer, he takes hundreds of school children sailing, while Ola, his wife of almost 51 years, doles out her much-sought cassava cake.

Mr. Jackson readily acknowledges that to merit the MBE for contributions to the preservation of the Caymanian culture and environment is an honour crowning a long line of awards that includes the Lifetime Achievement Award received during the Quincentennial Celebrations in 2003 and the 2007 Preservation Award from the National Trust.

However, Mr. William Kemuel Jackson still experiences his greatest joy whenever he sets the sails of his catboat, the Captain D, to the wind and steers a course to the peace and tranquility that he believes can only be found on the waters of Cayman.

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver